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Egyptian, Syrian, 


Iraqi Revolutions 

Some Observations on Their Underlying Causes 
and Social Character 


The Shaykh Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah 
Chair in Contemporary Arab Studies 

School of Foreign Service 
Georgetown University 
25 January' 1983 

Washington, D.C. 

I Bayt Al Arabi 

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data 

Batatu, Hanna, 1926 — 

The Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqi revolutions. 

“Inaugural lecture of the Shaykh Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah chair 
in contemporary Arab studies, Georgetown University, 25 January 

1. Arab countries — Politics and government— 1945— 
2. Egypt — Politics and government — 1919-1952. 3- Syria — Polities 
and government. 4. Iraq— Politics and government. 5. Revolutions — 
Arab countries. I. Georgetown University. Center for Contemporary 
Arab Studies. II. Title. 

DS63B35 1984 909’.0974927 84-5862 

International Standard Book Number: 0-932568-10-6 

Copyright © 1984 by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. 20057 All rights reserved. 
Printed in the United States of America. 

The Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqi Revolutions: 
Some Observations on 

Their Underlying Causes and Social Character 

There are great gaps in our knowledge of the social 
origins and social outcomes of Arab revolutions. Surpris- 
ingly enough, there is not a single systematic in-depth 
study of the social_roots or relationships of the 200 or 
so Free Officers who carried out the 1952 coup in Egypt. 
Similarly, relatively little is known about the families of 
Syria’s and Iraq’s rulers and the significance of these 
families as units of political and economic interaction. 
Intelligible data that could shed light on qualitative 
changes in the basic relationships of society are not easy 
to obtain, particularly in the case of Iraq and Syria, and 
such relevant statistics as are published are not in- 
frequently of doubtful accuracy, not detailed enough to 
permit meaningful inferences, or lend themselves to 
conflicting interpretations. Inevitably, the analysis of- 
fered here proceeds, at least at some points, from impres- 
sions rather than from hard facts and leads to conclusions 
that can only be tentative. ^ - 

The causative FACTORS underlying Arab revolu- 
tionary outbreaks are, to be sure, multiple and compli- 
cated and some of them arise out of the unique internal 


MMmNmnnmnnmnmm M 

or external conditions of different Arab countries. At the 
same time, the Arab revolutions have a common causal 
context. They are all directly, or through manifold and 
intricate mediate causes, related to a crucial historical 
process: the gradual tying-up of the Arab people in the 
course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to an 
international market resting on large-scale industry and 
their involvement in the web of forces or the conse- 
quences of forces unleashed by the industrial and 
technological revolutions. 

To this process, which is still at work, is related 
in one way or another a series of large facts: among 
others, the advance in the Arab world of the West ’s power 
and capital; the incipient imitation of modern 
techniques; the diffusion of elements of Western culture; 
the improvement of health standards and the swift rise 
in the rates of population growth; the British, French, 
and Italian conquests; the dismemberment of the Otto- 
man Empire and the severance of several of its Arab 
provinces from their natural trading regions; the settle- 
ment of French, Spanish, and Italian colons in Algeria, 
Morocco, and Libya, and of European and Oriental Jews 
in Palestine; the setting up of dependent monarchies, 
republics, and shaykhdoms with new' standing armies 
and new administrative machines; the exploitation of 
the region’s oil resources and the sudden explosion in 
the Arabian Peninsula of the “epidemic of oil money.” 
The ensuing structural consequences have been 
far-reaching. Old local economies based on the handi- 
craft, pearl-diving, or boat building industries and the 
traditional means of transport (camels and sailing ships) 

declined or broke asunder. A tillage essentially localized, 
based on bare subsistence, or subordinate to pastoralism 
gave way to a settled, market-related agriculture or an 
agriculture heavily dependent on one cash crop (wine 
in Algeria, cotton in Egypt, sugar in the Sudan). Private 
property, which had been largely confined to towns, 
became wider in extent, stabilized, and extremely con- 
centrated. Extensive tracts of state domain and com- 
munal tribal land passed into the hands of new men of 
capital, European colons , ex-warring shaykhs, or re- 
tainees of ruling pashas, often through forced purchases 
or without ground of right or any payment whatever. A 
handful of mercantile families rose to inordinate wealth 
by dint of the preferential patronage of princely elites 
with an exclusive hold over fabulous oil resources. Exist- 
ing balances between sects, religious groups, and social 
forces were severely disturbed. Tribes, guilds, and mystic 
orders lost cohesion or disintegrated and the vital 
economic defenses which they provided for peasants 
and artisans weakened or vanished. Vast masses of 
people moved from the oil-poor to the oil-rich lands in 
search of income, or from the countryside to the big 
cities to enroll in the new armies, bureaucracies, and 
police forces, or to find employment in the businesses 
that supplied the needs of these institutions, or to swell 
the ranks of unskilled laborers and tangibly depress their 
earnings. Hundreds of thousands of peasants in Algeria 
and Palestine were uprooted from their homes and 
severed from their means of livelihood. Old ties, loyal- 
ties, and norms were, to a lesser or greater degree, 
undermined, eroded, or swept away. 



In these structural changes all the important- 
radical parties and movements, including the Muslim 
Brethren, the Communists, the BaTh, the Free Officers, 
the Arab Nationalists, the Algerian Fellaghas, and the 
Palestinian Fedayeen, had their roots. From the same 
sources flowed the insurrectionary trend which had its 
most powerful expressions in this century in the Egyptian 
revolutions of 1919 and 1952, the Iraqi revolutions of 
1920 and 1958, the Syrian revolutions of 1925-27 and 
1963, the Palestinian popular upheaval of 1936-39, the 
Algerian revolution of 1954-1962, the guerrilla risings of 
1965-1974 in Dhofar, the Libyan revolution of 1969, and 
the civil wars of 1961-67 in North Yemen, of 1970 in 
Jordan, and of 1975-76 in Lebanon. 

To the same structural changes are related in one 
way or another and by visible or invisible threads the 
Arab-Israeli wars of 1948-49, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982 
and their widespread disruptive effects, particularly on 
the economies of Egypt and Syria, involving as they did 
enormous diversion of physical and human resources 
into defense. 

To be more explicit, the recurring upheavals and 
conflicts in the Arab world reflect underlying structural 
discordances. They are also directly or in an ultimate 
sense conflicts between ethnic forces, religious groups, 
or economic classes that suffered and ethnic forces, re- 
ligious groups, or economic classes — in and outside the 
Arab countries — that benefited from the processes just 
described. ^ 

In IRAQ the officer corps and the Ba c th Party drew 
many of their restless elements from the northern Arab 
families who had moved to the capital and whose tradi- 
tional economic life had been disorganized by the hin- 
drances of the new frontiers with Syria and by the decline 
of such industries as the construction of sailing ships at 
Hit or the production of c aba’as (woollen cloaks) in the 
town of c Anah and of kalaks (rafts of inflated skins) in 
the town of Takrlt. 1 Much of the mass backing of the 
Communists in Baghdad in the revolutionary years 1958- 
1963 came from the populace of the quarter of Bab 
ash-Shaykh, the center of a once thriving manual textile 
industry, 2 and from the Shurugls, who were tribal peas- 
ant migrants from the southern c Amarah region whose 
mode of subsistence had been upset by the shift to a 
market-oriented economy, the intensification of their 
shaykhs’ hold on the land, the unrestricted use by 
Baghdad’s and Kut’s big landowners of irrigation pumps 
on the Tigris, and the consequent drying up of some of 
the river channels. 4 Far more interesting is the fact that 
no less than 32 percent of the membership of the Com- 
munist Central Committee in the same revolutionary 
years were descendants of sadah (claimants of descent 
from the Prophet Muhammad). These sadah were of 
moderate means and often simultaneously provincial 
c ulama . Of causal significance here was a decline in the 
material situation of the “men of religion,” especially in 
the inferior ranks. * A consequence of this was that their 
sons fulfilled a role not unanalogous to that played in 
the nineteenth century by the sons of the lower clergy 
in the history of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia. 



In some of its aspects, at least in terms of its social 
origins, Iraq’s revolution was a rural revolution, or a 
revolution of the small country towns and of partially 
urbanized forces of rural origin against Iraq’s chief city 
and its governing class. All the effective leaders of the 
various phases of Iraq’s revolution were by birth or by 
origin from small country towns: c Abd-ul-KarIm Qasim 
from Suwayrah, ( Abd-us-Salam ‘Aref from Sumaychah, 
Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr and Saddam Husayn from Takrlt. 
Moreover, 32 out of the 47 members of the BaTh party 
commands in the period 1952-1970, 9 out of the 15 
members of the Supreme Committee of the Free Officers 
in 1958, and 13 out of the 15 members of the Revolu- 
tionary Command Council in the years 1968-1977 had 
similar rural roots. An overwhelming majority of them 
stemmed from the rural middle or lower middle 
classes — from small or intermediate landed peasants, 
petty agricultural entrepreneurs, petty tradesmen, and 
the like/ 

From this it should not be inferred that Iraq’s 
revolution was, narrowly speaking, the product of a con- 
scious initiative on the part of these rural classes, or that 
their class interests consciously permeated the regimes 
produced by the revolution, or that in the instance of 
each and every leading figure involved in the revolution 
or its related coups and countercoups there was a direct 
or conscious connection between his social origin and 
hisqDcditica] behavic)r. What can validly be maintained — 
and this is supported by the facts — is that the leading 
revolutionaries, being predominantly of similar back- 
ground, tended, in some respects and often uncon- 

sciously, to view life from similar standpoints and to 
tackle many problems in a similar manner. It is only in 
this sense that the class character of their regimes can 
be vindicated. 

The rural aspect of Iraq s revolution discussed 
above was a characteristic which it shared with the rev- 
olutions in Egypt and Syria and, incidentally, also those 
in Algeria and Libya. 

The initiators of Algeria’s revolution came from 
communes that were predominantly rural in character. 
Few of these people were advantaged but most were 
better off than the unlettered peasant masses. Some 
stemmed from families that had reportedly declined in 
wealth and status over the years. The inadequate data on 
the leaders of the maquisards or guerrillas, who were ac- 
tive in the interior of the country, and the leaders of the 
more professional units stationed in Morocco and 
Tunisia suggest that they were also largely of modest and 
rural origins/’ Houari Boumedienne was the son of an 
impoverished wheat farmer from Clauzel, a village near 
Guelma in eastern Algeria. 7 The father of Ahmed Ben 
Bella, a peasant, could not eke out a livelihood from his 
stony and arid 30-hectare plot and, to supplement his in- 
come, had to practice petty trade in his native Marnia, a 
townlet in the district of Oran. H 

Similarly, the principal leaders of the Libyan rev- 
olution originated for the most part from the bedouin- 



rural segments of Libyan society and had their roots in 
the interior and oases rather than in the coastal cities. 1 ' 
Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi was born in a tent in the open 
desert somewhere south of Sirt to a family of poor semi- 
nomads and ‘Abd-us-Salam Jallud to a humble family 
from a Fazzan oasis in Wadl-sh-Shattl. 

Of the 12 members of Egypt’s Revolutionary' Com- 
mand Council in 1952, at least 8 had rural origins and 
active rural connections, including Gamal ‘Alxl-un-Nasir, 
Muhammad Naguib, and Anwar as-Sadat. There is no 
definite information on the other four. Ahmad Hamrush, 
an army officer who took part in the military coup, main- 
tains, on the basis of discussions he had with “all the 
officers who moved against the monarchy on the night 
of July 23,” that none of them were descended from big 
landowners or from the poor peasant masses and that 
none of their fathers owned on the night of the coup 
more than 50 feddans (the feddan is roughly equal to 
an acre). This may perhaps explain why the ceiling on 
agricultural ownership did not fall below this limit in 
any of the stages of agrarian reform, even though it could 
have been lowered to 25 feddans to the benefit of a 
larger number of landless families without detriment to 
Egypt’s agricultural economy. At any rate, except for 
‘Abd-ul-Latlf al-Baghdadl, Zakariyyah and Khalid Muhyi- 
d-dln, and' the long-time Commander of the Armed 
Forces, ‘Abd-ul-Haklm Amer, who were scions of 
affluent 1 umdas or village headmen, the members of the 
i top revolutionary' command stemmed from families of 
moderate means — government officials or small or mid- 
dle peasants. Sadat’s father owned only two and a half 

feddans in the village of Mit Abul Kum" and Nasir’s 
grandfather only about five feddans in the village of 
Beni Murr. 12 

In the three or four decades before the revolu- 
tion, peasant families with five or less than five feddans 
were on the whole losing ground economically for a 
variety of reasons: among others, the fragmentation re- 
sulting from the Islamic law of inheritance, the vicis- 
situdes of the price of cotton, the pressure on increas- 
ingly scarce land, and the recurrent insect attacks and 
soil deterioration arising out of the extension of peren- 
nial cultivation, the neglect of drainage, and the shift 
around the turn of the century by the small and middle 
peasants from the three to the two-year crop rotation. 13 

Rural forces were also significant in the Syr- 
ian revolution, The BaTh regime of the revolutionary 
years 1963-1968 rested on an alliance within the army 
between varying groups which shared similar rural roots 
and similar rural orientations, and embraced c Alawis 
from the province of Latakia, Druzes fromjabal al- c Arab, 
and Sunnis from the region of Hawran and the district 
of Dayr az-Zur and from different small country towns. 1 * 
The lot of the c Alawis, who constituted the most 
numerous and poorest peasants in the plains to the west, 
south, and east of the ‘ Alawi mountains, was never envi- 
able. Under the Ottomans they were abused, reviled, 



and ground down by exactions and, on occasion, their 
women and children were led into captivity and disposed 
of by sale. Their situation worsened with the deepening 
commercialization of agriculture, and after World War I 
and in the period of the French Mandate became so 
deplorable that they developed the practice of selling 
or hiring out their daughters to affluent townspeople. 
These conditions drove them to enroll in great numbers 
in the state s armed forces, which in turn facilitated their 
rise to the political dominance that they now enjoy. This 
finds its epitome in the career (|f Hafiz al-Asad, who 
reached the summit of power by dint of his membership 
in the Ba'thist Secret Military Committee (founded in 
1959) and his eventual control through this committee 
of the Military Section of the Ba'th Party and of the 
striking units of Syria’s armed forces, but who began life 
as the son of a peasant who had difficulty making a living 
from the small plot he owned in the village of Qardahah. 

The BaThist Druze officers were also from an 
economically disadvantaged rural region, but there was 
an additional cause for their insurrectionary inclinations. 
Protected by difficult terrain, the sect to which they be- 
longed had long enjoyed a de facto autonomy but lost 
it in recent decades in the wake of improvements in the 
means of communications and a decisive increase in the 
firepower of the central government. 

The Hawrani Ba' thists were sons of small farmers. 
The latter, like the other small farmers of Hawran, sold 
their produce in markets controlled by the merchants 
of Damascus, who often succeeded in bending the state 
machine to their wishes and were, therefore, able to set 

the conditions of trade in manners answering to their 
interests. Their relationship with the Hawranis became 
in essence that of creditors with debtors. 

As the merchants of Damascus dominated Haw- 
ran, so did the men of capital in Aleppo dominate Dayr 
az-Zur. But here there was also a tribal division at work. 
The traditional leaders of the district of Dayr az-Zur 
stemmed from the Albu Saraya, a section of the affluent 
Baggara tribe, whereas many of the BaThists were de- 
scended from such inferior and underprivileged clans 
as the Khorshan and Shuyukh. 

This, incidentally, is not unlike the situation in 
Ubya where the tribal factor was important. Mu c ammar 
al-Qadhdhafi and his revolutionary companions, who 
abolished the tribes as political institutions, came with 
few exceptions from Libya’s minor and depressed tribes. 
The superior tribes had identified themselves with the 
monarchy . " 

Similarly, in Iraq, even though the BaTh regime 
has consciously worked to weaken the country’s tribal 
structure and to undermine the clan as a unit of social 
control, the revolution signified in certain of its aspects 
the decline of such major tribes as Shammar and RabTah 
and the rise in the weight of such inferior clans as aj- 
Jumaylah and Albu Nasir. The Jumaylah tribesmen 
formed the backbone of the key military unit shielding 
the regime of their kinsmen, ‘Abd-us-Salam and "Abd-ur- 
Rahman "Aref, in the period 1 963-1 968. 1(> The Albu Nasir 
serve a similar function in the present-day regime of 
Saddam Husayn. Saddam himself, Minister of Defense 
c Adnan al-Khayrallah at-Tulfah, Chief of General Intelli- 



gence Barzan Ibrahim,* Director of Security Fade! al-Bar- 
rak, Deputy Director General of Security Watban Ib- 
rahim,* and Secretary 7 General of the Office of the Ba'th 
Party Secretariat ‘All Hasan al-Majid, among others, be- 
long to the tribe of Albu Nasir. According to the regime’s 
adversaries, key members of the presidential bodyguard 
and of the Republican Guard, a crucial military unit, also 
stem from this tribe. 

Did the revolutions change the face of so- 
ciety in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria? How profound or qualita- 
tive were these changes? 

One of the most significant effects of the revolu- 
tions in all three countries was the enormous growth of 
the role of the government in the life of the people. The 
impact of the state upon the social structure or at least 
its capacity 7 to determine the direction of social change 
was enhanced by its planning powers and its greater 
influence over the distribution of the national income. 
Related to this was the increase of its functions on most 
economic and social fronts — in banking, large-scale in- 
dustry, cooperative agriculture, health, welfare, housing, 
and education. Under Sadat the “ infitah ” or “open-door” 
policy 7 — in practice a kind of economic Thermidor — led 

*In October 1983 Barzan Ibrahim and Watban Ibrahim lost 
their positions. The post of Chief of General Intelligence went to 
Hisham al-Fakhri, ex-Commander of the Fourth Army Corps who, 
however, assumed command in February 1984 of the military opera- 
tions against Iran east of the Tigris River. 

to a certain reversal of this trend in Egypt. The intensity 
of the government's control over the economy de- 
creased. The public sector was enfeebled through its 
partial deprivation of needed skills and resources, the 
impairment of its planning and coordinating capacities, 
the dismantling of some state enterprises, the import of 
goods analogous to goods manufactured by state fac- 
tories, and the encouragement of a parasitic class of 
nouveawc riches (the “utat smart” or “fat cats”). Never- 
theless, the state continues to be the main producer of 
industrial goods and the main employer of non- 
agricultural labor. 17 

The increased tasks of the government in the 
,f post-revolutionary period involved a big buildup in its 
0 staff and bureaus. In Egypt, state employees grew from 
an estimated 20,000 in 1882 to roughly 325,000 on the 
eve of the 1952 coup and to about 2.9 million in 1976. 1H 
In Syria they increased from 34,000 in I960 to 331,000 
in 1979 |l) and in Iraq from about 85,000 in 1958 to 662,000 
in 1978. 2,, The post-revolutionary figures include employ- 
ees and laborers in the public economic sector. When 
members of the armed and security forces, pensioners, 
and dependents of the soldiers and other state servants 
are considered, it becomes clear that in all three coun- 
tries more than one-fourth of the inhabitants depend 
directly upon the government for their livelihood and 
life chances. 

The growth of government was in some measure 
politically induced and economically irrational, in the 
sense that a very considerable number of people were 
engaged by the state as part of efforts to reduce un- 



employment (as in Egypt) or to recompense followers 
or ward off opposition (as in Syria and Iraq) and thus 
are superfluous and purely parasitic and, in effect, 
hamper the functioning of the administrative machine. 
To some degree, big government is the result of past 
nationalization measures and the uprooting of the social 
power of private large-scale property. At the same time, 
present international economic relationships are so 
structured, the financial, organizational, and technical 
powers of multinational corporations are so over- 
whelming, and the Arab world is so underdeveloped 
that, with some exceptions, Arab private entrepreneurs 
cannot grow autonomously and can only exist as append- 
ages of either the multinational corporate system or of 
their own governments. This largely accounts for the 
fact that the tendency toward state dominance of the 
economy and the related trend toward big government 
are as characteristic of the traditionally oriented as of 
the radical or quasi-radical Arab countries. 

The huge increase in the size and role of govern- 
ment — conjoined with other influences, such as the 
rapid rate of population growth and in Iraq the relatively 
depressed level of agriculture— -led to an accentuated 
and unhealthy rise in urban population. Damascus grew 
from 276,000 in 1942 to 530,000 in I960 and 1.2 million 
in 1983; 21 Baghdad from about 1 50,000 in 1908 to 793,000 
in 1957 and 3 million in 1983; 22 Cairo from 375,000 in 
1882 to 2.3 million in 1952 and about 14 million today. 2 ' 
The problems and tensions generated by such unusually 
rapid changes can r>e imagined. 

Another consequence of the growth of govern- 

ment has been an appreciable rise in the numerical 
importance of the urban middle classes at least in Iraq c 
and Syria and possibly in Egypt. This has been reinforced 
by the widening of educational opportunities. Although 
the available figures are incomplete or not sufficiently 
precise, it appears that in Iraq in the first revolutionary 
decade alone there was a two-fold increase of middle 
class townsmen (petty tradesmen, artisans, professionals, 
state employees, and employees of private firms in the 
middle and lower middle income brackets), and that 
their proportion of the urban inhabitants as a whole 
went up to something like 34 percent from the 28 percent 
or so at the time of the revolution. 24 Middle class towns- 
men nearly doubled in Syria between I960 and 1970 
and increased from 27.5 percent to 30.7 percent of the 
economically active population in the same decade.^ In 
Egypt, according to one estimate, they added up to 59 
percent of the total urban population in 1970-71, 20 but 
this figure is possibly inflated. 

Interestingly enough, whereas in Syria the tradi- 
tional urban “petty bourgeoisie” — the self-employed ar- 
tisans and independent shopkeepers — grew in the de- 
cade in question (it increased from 12.5 percent to 14.7 
percent of the economically active population), 27 in Egypt 
it was said to have “steadily lost its historical impor- 
tance” 2 ” and in 1970-71 made up only about 5 2 percent 
of the active population, if one assumes the accuracy of 
the statistical evidence. 29 The growth of the “petty 
bourgeoisie” in Syria in the 1960s appears to have been 
the result of the mechanization of many of the small 
private firms and the ensuing decrease in their work 



force which drove the more enterprising of their former 
laborers to establish businesses for themselves. 

Impressionistic evidence strongly suggests that 
the bulk of the rising component of the middle class in 
the bureaucracy and the public sector, at least in Iraq 
and Syria, is of relatively recent rural origin. Indeed, in 
Syria, at the bottom of the discontent of the urban traders 
in the 1970s and the sympathy which segments of them 
developed for the Muslim Brethren is the fact that they 
frequently found themselves compelled to deal with state 
employees who were of rural origin and, if not hostile 
to the urban trading community, had little understanding 
of the intricacies of trade and thus wittingly or unwit- 
tingly raised all sorts of impediments in its path. 

At any rate, until the retreat from radicalism, 
which in Egypt was carried out under the banner of the 
“infitah" but which in Syria and Iraq proceeded more 
subtly, the upper and well-connected layers of the 
salaried middle class and more particularly their military 
segments appear to have been the main urban ben- 
eficiaries of the revolution.*’ 

At the same time, the ranks of the industrial work- 
ers increased considerably, but not enough to render 
them important in a political sense. In Egypt’s modern 
manufacturing sector they added up to only 250,000 in 
1952 but to as many as 517,000 in 1966-67; their share 
of the national labor force rose trom 3-5 percent to 6.1 
percent in the same period.” In Iraq their numbers and 
those of administrative employees in large manulactur- 
ing plants (that is, plants with more than 10 workers) 
increased from 67,000 in I960 to 92,000 in 1970 and to 

151,000 in 1978.” In Syria the number of industrial work- 
ers in all (including small-scale) plants rose from 86,000 
in I960 to 242,000 in 1979.” 

Moreover, in Egypt, in striking contrast to the 
continued privation of the floating, economically unin- 
tegrated sub-proletariat (the casual laborers, servants, 
street vendors, and the like) the bulk of the industrial 
workers were better remunerated and better cushioned 
monetarily against sickness and unemployment in the 
time of Nasir than under the monarchy. Thus, in the 
modern industrial sector their average annual income 
rose from 88 Egyptian pounds in 1952 to 168 Egyptian 
pounds in 1966-67. If due account is taken of the rise 
in the cost of living, the increase in their average real 
income appears to have been around 44 percent, but 
this does not include the workers’ fringe benefits and 
the employers’ contribution to social insurance.” In Iraq, 
according to published official figures, which do not 
distinguish between the wages of production workers 
and the salaries of administrative personnel, the average 
annual income (excluding social benefits) of persons 
employed in large industrial establishments rose from 
231 dinars in I960 to 317 dinars in 1970 and to 722 
dinars in 1978.” From these increases must be elimi- 
nated the impact of inflation (at an average annual rate 
of 1 .7 percent between I960 and 1970 and of 14. 1 percent 
between 1970 and 1980”). This suggests a real income 
increment of 16.1 percent in the first post-revolutionary 
decade and a real decline of 20.7 percent between 1970 
and 1978. For Syria there are no readily comparable 
statistics except with regard to the years after Hafiz al- 




Asad’s seizure of power; the average monthly wage of 
workers in the industrial public sector rose from 240 
Syrian pounds in 1970 to 503 Syrian pounds in 1977.” 
Inasmuch as the average annual rate of inflation was 1 1.4 
percent in the same period, 38 it appears that there was 
a real decrease in workers’ income of 1.6 percent. 

In the countryside, one partly unintended conse- 
quence of the Egyptian revolution was the rise in the 
importance of the'rich peasants (that is, peasants owning 
more than 20 feddans), thanks largely to their superior 
resources, their links with local officials, their “ingen- 
ious” exploitation of rural cooperatives, and their ready 
access to agricultural credit. Their position has been 
further enhanced by the “ infitah ” policies. Together with 
the middle peasants (that is, peasants owning 5 to 20 
feddans), they now control about 62 percent of Egypt’s 
cultivated area and as much as 80 to 90 percent of the 
stock of farm machinery. 39 In Syria the state did not favor 
the rich peasants in the second half of the 1960s but 
heavily emphasized collectivization. After 1970, however, 
it winked at illegal purchases or leasing by the richer 
peasants of plots owned by the poorer peasants and gave 
de facto support to “modern agriculturists” or capitalist 
farmers. 40 Similarly, in Iraq there was a considerable 
interest in the 1970s in organizing collective and state 
farms but during 1980 the government began turning 
over agricultural and agro-industrial projects to private 
investors under a law permitting them a 20 percent share 
in these projects, with 29 percent going to agricultural 
cooperatives and the state retaining 51 percent. 41 

All three revolutions expanded the small land- 

holding peasantry and generally improved its conditions. 
In Egypt only 17.5 percent of the total agricultural income 
accrued to holders of less than five feddans in 1950 but 
in 1965 their share was 34 percent.” A very rough esti- 
mate indicates that in Syria holders of 1 to 10 hectares 
controlled only 15 percent of the agricultural land in 
1950 but 35 percent in 1970. Their proportion of the 
population rose from 22 percent to 47.5 percent in the 
same period. 43 In Iraq the agrarian reform beneficiaries 
alone owned, at the end of 1978, 7.6 million mesharas r 44 
or 33.2 percent of Iraq’s total cultivated area. 

However, by the 1970s 33 percent of all rural 
families in Egypt remained landless but only 21 percent 
in Syria and less than 13 percent in Iraq. 43 On the other 
hand, the exodus from the countryside has been most 
intense in Iraq: in 1980 as much as 72 percent of Iraq’s 
population was urban. The corresponding figure for 
Egypt was only 45 percent and for Syria 50 percent. 46 
But Iraq’s pronounced urban demographic growth re- 
flects in part the recent migration to Baghdad and other 
cities of upward of 1 million Egyptian laborers. 

It may be worthwhile to note parenthetically that, 
as is evident from the table below, only Syria succeeded 
in consistently raising its per capita agricultural produc- 
tion during the 1970s, probably by reason of the more 
flexible agricultural policy of its government and the 
serious attention it paid to rural cooperatives and the 
productivity of the peasants. Syria’s relative success is 
also explicable by the increase of irrigated land in the 
wake of the development of the Euphrates Dam. In Egypt 
the laissez-faire bias of the ‘ , infitdh' , is partly to blame 



1969-71 = 100 







1975 1976 


1978 1979 









93 93 












77 94 






1 i() 






124 140 





Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United 


FAQ Production Yearbook, 19X1, Volume 34, pp. 81-82. 

for the widening gap between the demand for food and 
the domestic supply; since the death of Nasir in 1970 
almost a sixth of the cultivated land has been lost to 
residential and commercial construction.' 7 Inefficient 
farming methods, the spread of salinity, the import of 
cheap food, the wide income differentials between ag- 
ricultural and industrial laborers, and the inadequate 
interest shown by the government in developing the 
peasants into skilled farmers account for the relative 
- deterioration of agriculture in Iraq, which is now even 
more pronounced by dint of the withdrawal of 40 to 45 
percent of the country’s labor force from production for 
the direct or indirect purposes of the Iraq-Iran war. 1H 

In all three countries the casual agricultural labor- 
ers have probably benefited least from the revolution. 
This is particularly true in Egypt, especially in the case 
°f the migrant laboring class known as the tcirahil, who 
now number at least 2 million. These are usually re- 
cruited for four to eight weeks for the maintenance of 
canals and other rural purposes. As a rule, they are 
abused both by their employers and by special labor 
contractors, the muwakkilt anfar, who extract commis- 

sions from them that can add up to something like 12 
percent of their earnings and to whom they are perpetu- 
ally indebted. Their indebtedness has been generated 
by existential constraints that compel them to borrow 
from the labor contractors during the slack season and 
for such occasions as births, deaths, sickness, and mar- 
riage. ,y According to one source, however, changes in 
the conditions of labor supply after 1973, especially mig- 
ration to the cities and to Iraq and the Gulf, led to 
“dramatic increases in rural real wage rates.”™ This is 
rather astonishing in light of the fact that 1 million Egyp- 
tians are born every 10 months and 400,000 persons 
enter the labor force annually. Anyhow, the recent 
economic slowdown and layofl of foreign workers in 
the Gulf is bound to affect adversely whatever gains 
Egypt’s rural laborers may have achieved. 

One final point: all three revolutions initially 
sought to reduce their countries’ subordination to the 
Western economy and the international division of labor 
and to achieve a certain measure of economic indepen- 
dence. Egypt appears to have temporarily moved in that 
direction during part of the Nasir period and Iraq in the 
1960s. Otherwise, and especially after the adoption of 
the infitah or analogous policies, the external orientation 
of the economies of the three countries and their partici- 
pation in the international division of labor progressed 
and deepened. The average annual growth rate of im- 
ports between I960 and 1970 was -1.1 percent for Egypt, 
4 percent for Syria, and 1.4 percent for Iraq, but between 
1970 and 1980 it was 8.8 percent for Egypt, 13 percent 
for Syria, and 20.5 percent for Iraq. sl For Egy pt, the ratio 



of imports to the gross domestic product declined from 
28.7 percent in 1952-53 to 20.4 percent in 1959-60 and 
10.2 percent in 1970 but rose to 21.1 percent in 1980. 
For Syria, the corresponding indicator was 10.3 percent 
in 1963, 19.8 percent in 1970, and 32 percent in 1980. 
For Iraq, it was 29 percent in 1958, 12.6 percent in 1970, 
and 29.3 percent in 1980. S2 As a matter of fact, as has 
been powerfully argued in a recent study by a well- 
known author,* the role of imports is now markedly 
more significant in the economies of the Arab region 
than in the economies of any other region of the Third 
World. However, an increase in imports need not in it- 
self imply an increase of dependence. The real problem 
flows from the fact that the goods imported tend to be 
more of the kind that weaken rather than enhance the 
relative autonomy or productive capacity of the countries 


Consult Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Rev- 
olutionary Movements of Iraq (Princeton University Press, Prince 
ton, 1978), pp. 293-294 and 298; Tables 41-2, 41-3, and 41-4; pp. 
995 and 998; Tables 58-2 and 58-3; and pp. 1088-1092. 

dbid., pp. 424 and 983 (the ' Aqd ul-Akrad district is a part of 
Bab ash-Shaykh). 

" Ihid > PP 134 ff„ 150-151, 551, 804-805, 898, 978, and 983 (the 
Shurugls lived in the town of ath-Thawrah in 1963). 

"Ibid., pp. 999-1000. 

7 bid., pp. 778-783, 1086-1089, and 1216-1223. 

’William B. Quandt, Ret>olution and Political Leadership: Algeria, 
1)54-1968 (The M.l.T. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1969) pp 
69, 73, and 111 

Ihe New York Times, December 3, 1978; and David and Marina 
Ottaway, Algeria: The Politics of a Socialist Revolution (University 
of California Press, Berkeley, 1970), p. 296. 

"Robert Merle, Ahmed Ben Bella (Editions Gallimard, Paris, 1965) 
p. 23. 

'Ruth First, Libya. Ihe Elusive Ret>olution (Africana Publishing 
Company, New York, 1975), pp. 1 15-1 16. 

Ahmad Hamrush, Qissat Thawrat Thaldthah wa 'Ishrin Yuliyu 
(The Story of the Revolution of July 23), Volume I: Misr wa-TA s- 
kariyyun (Egypt and the Military) (The Arab Studies and Publishing 
Institute, Beirut, 1974), p. 214. 

' IAnwar as-Sadat, In Search of Identity: An Autobiography (Harper 
& Row, New York, 1978), p. 3. 

'dean Lacouture, Nasser, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1971, p. 26. 

"On the last point, see Alan Richards, “Agricultural Technology 
and Rural Social Classes in Egypt, 1920-1939," Middle Eastern 
Studies, Volume 16, Number 2, May 1980, pp. 56-83 

"The points discussed in this and the following paragraphs are 
developed further in Hanna Batatu, “Some Observations on the 
Social Roots of Syria's Ruling Military' Group and the Causes for its 
Dominance,” The Middle East Journal, Volume 35, Number 3, Sum- 
mer 1981 , pp. 331-344; and Hanna Batatu, “Syria’s Muslim Brethren,” 
MERIP Reports, Number 110, November December 1982, pp. 12-20. 

"Ruth First, Libya: The Elusive Revolution, p. 1 15. 

"Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary 
Movements of Iraq, pp. 1027-1028. 

"For the effects of the infitdb policy in Egypt, consult 'Adel Hu- 
sayn, al-Iqtisdd al-Misri min al-Istiqldl ila-t-Taho' iyyah, 1974-1979 
(The Egyptian Economy: From Independence to a Satellite Status, 
1974-1979), Dar al-Wahdah, Beirut, 1981, Volume II, pp. 438-502; 
Mark N. Cooper, The Transformation of Egypt (The John Hopkins 
University Press, Baltimore, 1982), pp. 91-125; and Marie-Christine 
Aulas, “Sadat’s Egypt: A Balance Sheet,” MERIP Reports, Number 
107, July-August 1982, pp. 8-11 and 14. 

IH Morroe Berger, Bureaucracy and Society in Modern Egypt 
(Princeton University' Press, Princeton, 1957), p. 31; Robert Mabro, 
The Egyptian Economy, 1952-1972 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 
1974), p. 224; andJ.S. Birks and C.A. Sinclair, Arab Manpower: The 
Crisis of Dei vlopment ( St. Martin’s Press, New Yc >rk, 1 980 ), p. 226. 

"Syrian Arab Republic, at Ti'ddd al-'Am li-s-Sukkdn, I960 ( Popu- 
lation Census, I960), p. 165; and Statistical Abstract, 1980, p. 143 

’"Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary > 
Movements of Iraq, p. 1 123; and Republic of Iraq, Annual Abstract 
of Statistics, 1978, p. 270. 

•’Great Britain, Naval Intelligence Division,. 1 S\ria (London, 1943), 
p. 207; and Syrian Arab Republic, Statistical Abstract, 1980, pp. 80 
and 133. The 1983 figure is partly estimated. 

"Hanna Batatu, Ibe Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary? 
Movements of tract P 35. The 1983 figure is a rough estimate. 

-'For the 1882 figure, see Gabriel Baer, Studies in the Social 
History of Egypt ( University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1969), p. 135. 
The 1952 figure is based on data in Janet Abu-Lughod, Cairo ( Prince- 
ton University Press, Princeton, 1971), pp. 129-30. That for 1983 is 
based on a 1982 estimate by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, The Neu> 
York Times, June 1, 1982. 

" Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary 
Movements of Iraq, p. 1126. 

•"Elisabeth Ixmguenesse, “The Class Nature of the State in Syria: 
Contribution to An Analysis,” MERIP Reports, Volume 9, Number 4, 
May 1979, p. 4. 

"Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, the Political Economy of Nasserism 
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., 1980), p. 95. 

"See footnote #25. 

"Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, The Political Economy of Nasserism 
p. 94. 

'’‘The percentage is based on the approximate figures provided 
in Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, The Political Economy of Nasserism, p. 
97, and on the assumption that the economically active population 
in Egypt in 1970-71 added up to roughly 8.3 million. 

"This generalization is based partly on personal impressions and 
partly on Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, The Political Economy of Nas- 
serism, pp. 48-49, 52-53, 69, 88, and 105; Hanna Batatu, The Old 
Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq, pp. 1127- 
1129 and 1 133; and Syrian Arab Republic, Statistical Abstract, 1980, 
pp. 140-143. 

"Robert Mabro, The Egyptian Economy, 1952-1972, p. 222. 

'-’Republic of Iraq, Statistical Handbook for the Years 1957-1967, 
p. 86, Annual Abstract of Statistics, 1973, p. 169; and Statistical Poc- 
ket Book, 1978, p. 28. 

"Syrian Arab Republic, at-Tiddd atyAm li-s-Sukkdn, I960, p.163; 
and al-Qutr uT Arabi as-SuriJi Arqdm, 1980 (The Syrian Arab Re- 
public in Figures, 1980), p. 4. 

"Robert Mabro, The Egyptian Economy, 1952 1972, pp. 222-223. 



"The amounts are computed from data in Republic of Iraq, Statis- 
tical Handbook for the Years 1957-1967, pp. 86-87; Annual Abstract 
of Statistics, 1973, p. 1 69; and Statistical Pocket Book, 1978, p. 28. 

'The World Bank, World Development Report 1982 (Oxford Uni- 
versity Press, New York, 1982), p. 111. 

"Computed from figures in Syrian Arab Republic, Statistical 
Abstract, 1980, p. 227. 

'7 bid,, p. 341. 

"Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, Development, Income Distribution, and 
Social Change in Rural Egypt, 1952-1970 (Cambridge University 
Press, Cambridge U.K., 1975), pp. 42-43, 117-118, and 121; and 
Raymond William Baker, Egypt’s Uncertain Rei>olution under Nasser 
and Sadat (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1978), 
pp. 205-217. 

‘"Robert Springborg, “Ba'thism in Practice: Agriculture, Politics, 
and Political Culture in Syria and Iraq,” unpublished paper, June 
1979, p. 13; and Samir Amin, Irak et Syrie, 1960-1980, du projet 
national a la transnationalisation (Les Editions de Minuit, Paris, 

1982), p. 28. 

"The Middle East (London), January 1981, p. 48. 

"Robert Mabro, The Egyptian Economy 1952-1972, p. 221. 

‘'Raymond A. Hinnebusch, Party and Peasant in Syria (American 
University in Cairo, Cairo, 1979), p. 58. 

"Republic of Iraq, Statistical Pocket Book, 1978, p. 22. A meshdra 
equals 0.618 acre. 

"The figure for Egypt is for 1970 and is taken from Mahmoud 
Abdel-Fadil, Development, Income Distribution, and Social Change 
in Rural Egypt, 1952-1970, p. 44. The percentage for Syria is also 
for 1970 and is based on data in Syrian Arab Republic, Statistical 
Abstract, 1980. pp. 93 and 171; and that for Iraq is for 1971 and is 
computed from data in Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and 
the Reifolutionary Movements of Iraq, p. 1117. 

"'The World Bank, World Development Report 1982, pp. 148-149. 

"Roger Owen, “The Arab Economies in the 1970s,” MERIT Reports, 
Number 100/101, October-December 1981, p. 9. 

The percentage mentioned in the text was provided by President 
Saddam I Iusayn in an interv iew with one of Time's editors Time July 
19, 1982, p. 46. 

' Mahmoud Abdel-Fadil, Development, Income Distribution, and 
Social Change in Rural Egypt, 1952-1970, pp. 46-48. 

Alan Richards, Peasant Differentiation and Politics in Contempo- 
rary' Egypt,” Peasant Studies, Vol. 9, No. 3, Spring 1982, pp. 145-148 
and 159. 

"The World Bank, World Development Report 1982, pp. 124 125. 

The percentages are taken or computed from Robert Mabro, 
The Egyptian Economy, 1952-1972, p. 177; A.A. Kubursi, Arab 
Economic Prospects in the 1980s (Institute for Palestine Studies, 
Beirut, 1980), pp. 22-23; Republic of Iraq, Statistical Handbook for 
the Years 1957-1967, pp. 162-163; Syrian Arab Republic, Statistical 
Abstract, 1980, pp. 287 and 566; and The World Bank, World De- 
velopment Report 1982, pp. 114-115 and 124-125. 

"Samir Amin, The Arab Economy Today (Zed Press, London, 
1982 ). 




Hanna Batatu, the Shaykh Sabah Al -Salem Al-Sabah Pro- 
fessor of Contemporary Arab Studies, received his under- 
graduate degree from Georgetown University’s School 
of Foreign Service in 1953. He obtained his Ph.D. in 
political science from Harvard University in I960. 

He was awarded the Georgetown University Gold 
Key and the W. Coleman Nevils Gold Medal upon gradu- 
ating from Georgetown. Professor Batatu has had fellow- 
ships from Vienna University, the Social Science Re- 
search Council, Harvard University, and Princeton Uni- 
versity. He was the recipient of a research grant in 1964 
from the Center for International Studies at the Mas- 
sachusetts Institute of Technology. A professor of polit- 
ical studies at the American University of Beirut from 
1962 to 1981, Professor Batatu also held the position of 
chairman of the Department of Political Studies and Pub- 
lic Administration at the university from 1979 to 1981. 
In the year before coming to Georgetown, he was the 
H.A.R. Gibb Fellow in Islamic Studies at Harvard Univer- 

His major work, The Old Social Classes and the 
Revolutionary Movements of Iraq, published in 1978 by 
Princeton University Press, is regarded by many scholars 
to be the most significant contribution to the study of 
Middle Eastern society and politics in many years. This 


enormous study, the work of ten years of diligent re- 
search, is unmatched for its richness of detail and grasp 
of theory. Professor Batatu ’s commitment to history as 
a requisite for the analysis of social change combined 
with his rigorous and original application of a political 
economy approach has gained him the respect of a broad 
spectrum of social scientists and Middle East specialists. 
He has also made important contributions to many schol- 
arly journals including Arab Studies Quarterly, Peuples 
Mediterraneens, al-Thaqafa al-Jadida, MERIP Reports , 
and The Middle East Journal as well as to books on such 
subjects as Islam and Communism, hierarchy and stratifi- 
cation in the Arab world, and the future of higher edu- 
cation in the Middle East. 

Dr. Batatu’s current research interests include so- 
cial structure and political power in Syria and Saudi